Judge hears costs and fees motion in Festival gun suit

An order from the bench is forthcoming

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

A judge heard arguments for and against a reimbursement of costs and fees to the city of Sandpoint Oct. 27, marking the latest in the lawsuit brought by Bonner County regarding The Festival at Sandpoint’s gun ban.

Kootenai County District Judge Lansing L. Haynes started the hearing by granting a supplemental memorandum of costs and fees that legal counsel for the city submitted Oct. 23, requesting attorney fees accrued since the initial request filed Sept. 16 be considered for reimbursement. In total, including the costs since mid-September, Sandpoint seeks almost $95,000.

An unidentified individual carrying a firearm outside the gates at the Festival at Sandpoint in 2019.
Photo by Racheal Baker.

Attorney Peter Erbalnd of Lake City Law Group, representing the city, pointed out that both the city and county acknowledged a piece of Idaho Code in previous filings that states: “In any civil judicial proceeding involving as adverse parties a governmental entity and another governmental entity, the court shall award the prevailing party reasonable attorney’s fees, witness fees and other reasonable expenses.”

Erbland said the purpose of the code is to provide a “disincentive for political subdivisions to sue each other.”

“You know why? It makes perfect sense, because they are doing it on the taxpayer’s dime. And in this case, Bonner County caused the expenditure of a quarter-million dollars, of taxpayer dollars, to advance an argument that was ‘unpersuasive,’ ‘vague,’ ‘speculative’ and ‘without merit,’” Erbland said, quoting Haynes’ Sept. 2 ruling which determined that the county lacked standing in the case. “In other words, they caused the expenditure of $250,000 because they wanted to stick their nose into the business of the city of Sandpoint.”

In her response, attorney Amy Clemmons of Davillier Law Group — representing Bonner County — disputed Erbland’s claim that the county was on a “fool’s errand” in the lawsuit, and argued that the core of the case had not yet seen a ruling. The county has repeatedly argued that a ruling on the law was necessary to coordinate a law enforcement response to an “affray” involving pro-gun protesters outside the next Festivat event.

“Clarity on the law would help them respond to that safety concern,” she said. “That’s what this case was about.”

Therefore, Clemmons said the city should only receive costs and fees related to the narrow issue of standing — not for any research done on other aspects of the case. She also alleged that the county’s suit could have saved the city from a “litany” of lawsuits should the gun ban move forward and arrests be made.

“It was the city’s actions that drew the county into this mess — not the other way around,” Clemmons said.

Judge Haynes asked city counsel whether a partial award for work done on the issue of standing seemed practical, to which Erbland responded: “We had to brief those issues, and the county should pay for it.”

“It becomes tiresome and wearying to listen to frivolous and concocted arguments such as these,” Erbland concluded in his response to county counsel.

Haynes said at the Oct. 27 hearing that he would take the arguments under advisement and issue an order soon.

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